What is style?
Continue reading “What is Style? – Notes From New Sodom”
What is style?
Continue reading “What is Style? – Notes From New Sodom”
So the 21st of May came and went without a whiff of the Rapture, nary a hint of Moby Douche, the Great White Fail, breaching the firmament above. No star called Wormwood fallen from the sky, turning a third of the waters to tasty absinthe.
No angels treading the wine gums of the wrath of the Lord. Not a peep of New Jerusalem on the early warning radar. Instead here we are, still in New Sodom, with Benny the Rat still in the Vatican, Fred Phelps still on the streets, and Harold Camping still on the radio, still selling his schtick. The Rapture’s postponed apparently, till the 21st October. Cool. That’s going to be one fuck of 40th birthday party for me that day then.
You may have heard of the UK lawsuit where Seven Days in the Art World, was reviewed in the Daily Torygraph by Lynn Barber, one of the people she interviewed for it. In her takedown of the book, Barber explicitly said she couldn’t trust Thornton’s claims regarding her rigorous research. Why not? She’s one of the interview subjects named, she said, and she never gave an interview:
Down in the ghetto of Genre, in the SF Café that is our literary salon, in this scene of zines and forums, conventions and clubs, there’s a Great Debate that kicks off every so often. The diversity of the clientele maps to a diversity of opinions — convictions, even — and few of these are as contentious as those addressing the differences or lack thereof between science fiction and fantasy.
To be fair, the taxonomy of literary genres is a game that appeals to the geek in me as much as anyone, but the diversity we’re dealing with in the SF Café is obscured by the very word genre, its meaning muddled by a conflation of openly-defined aesthetic idioms with conventional forms; that are closely-defined and marketing categories that are all but empty of definition.
So Science Fiction is dead; but the death of Science Fiction is not the end of the story. Rather it’s the beginning of it. Torn apart in the struggles of its factions, deserted by the blood and breath of its most explorative writers, the carcass of that old Genre still sits in the SF Café, a leg here, an arm there, novitiates of this cult or that gnawing on its bones, sucking on what’s left of the marrow.
The Appetence for Alterity
Exoticism is — rightly — something of a dirty word. It is the commodification of the Other, appropriating the thoughts or clothing or music or food or religion of an unfamiliar culture for the charm of the unfamiliar. The example that always comes to mind for me is Lamont Cranston — The Shadow — who learned the power to cloud men’s minds “while traveling in East Asia.”
— Daniel Abraham, A Defence of Exoticism
It’s the other day in the SF Café. I’m sipping a coffee, checking emails, browsing blogs, when I notice, over at his booth, writer Daniel Abraham musing on exoticism. As he takes pains to note, as we can see in the quote above, the stigma of colonialism attaching to that term is not to be dismissed. Still, he admits, he can’t wholly dismiss the appetence for alterity either. It’s less a defence he offers, I’d say, than it’s a consideration of an ambiguous stance that allows for value in the romance with the Other. He’s not denying the toxic outcomes, but suggesting that these aren’t the aim of our attraction, that there’s an impulse here that isn’t pathological for all its ultimate effects.
The appetence for alterity…
Miso Soup at Midnight
It’s night in the city of Writing. A librarian sits in the SF Café, looking out on the ghetto of Genre. The whole place has become a little chi-chi over the years, beatnik artists moving in above the brothels and the crack dens. Might almost forget it’s the ghetto, if that avant garde street theatre troupe out on Mass Market Square didn’t blend in with the hookers and hustlers, make it all look like just one big sensual experience for sale. And whenever she swings by the Bistro de Critique, friends shudder at where she hangs: that dive? The librarian takes this in her stride. There’s no point whining about your area being badmouthed when your next door neighbour runs a crack house and, well, you do like a bit of a puff on the old hash pipe now and then.
In the Interests of Precision
This is not a review. If you want to know whether I think director Gareth Edwards’s debut feature Monsters is worth seeing, I do. Go see it. But this isn’t about how good I think it is, and why; it’s about what the film’s doing, how this strange fiction (the specific example and the form in general) works. Whether it works well or not, for you or me — I don’t give a shit. More than anything, I want to use it here to explore the sort of dynamics at play in strange fiction, because the movie addresses one aspect of that dynamics directly, proclaiming this in its very title. The film is about the device of the monstrum that drives many narratives, not least those we project onto reality.
The Leopardskin Print of Thrift Shop Drag
So here I am, after a dozen or so columns, sitting in the SF Café, drinking my black coffee and saying, f’r sure, no Science Fiction novel has ever won the Booker. Yeah? And? So? What? Has any Crime novel ever won the Booker? Has any Romance? Has any Western? Let’s simplify it: Has any work of extruded formulaic pabulum in any Genre you care to name ever won the Booker? Has any work in any Genre born of the fricking pulps, in any commercial marketing category specifically designed to target a niche with a promise of extruded formulaic pabulum ever won the Booker?
Those Rocket Age Rhapsodies, Those Information Era Operas
“No SF novel ever won the Booker.”
Somebody, Somewhere, Somewhen
If’ you hang out long enough down in the ghetto of Genre, in the SF Café, eventually you’ll hear this axiom, or an axiom like it, muttered with a certain tone of harumph, a petulance in proportion to the wounded pride. Maybe you’ll say it yourself, sullen in your sense of injustice, disregard; I know I have.
I’m not sure I’m the most logical person to invite to speak at an arts festival in Tallinn on the theme of “Would you love a robot?” But the invite came in, and I’m game for anything, so what the fuck, I figured; I’m sure I can think of something to say. And never one to let my opinionation dissipate into the ether, I thought I might as well share it with you all too.
The SF Café is a curious place. Take a wrong turn when you step inside the door, and you can find yourself not where you expected at all. Or rather, not when you expected to be.
“If you go exploring in another culture only as a way of improving yourself and your work, that’s blatantly appropriative. Rose Fox, “A Whiff of Colonialism,” Publishers Weekly
Another day, another shitstorm in the SF Café. A couple of months back, some of you might recall, it was one Young Turk turned Old Guard with an ill-fated article on international SF, a Caesar of dubious pontification that met a Senate of aggravated responses. Others said all that has to be said about the article at the time, and it’s sorta blown over now, so I’m not going to add my dagger; but in a couple of the responses (or responses to responses,) as the entrails slipped to the ground, fingers were pointed and the dread words whispered: cultural appropriation. As in the quote above, the link was made.
“In fact, one good working definition of science fiction may be the literature which, growing with science and technology, evaluates it and relates it meaningfully to the rest of human existence.”
H. Bruce Franklin
When you watch enough of the daily dogfights down in the SF Café, you can get a bit jaded with it all. It’s science fiction versus Science Fiction versus Sci-Fi versus science fiction versus Fantasy versus fantasy — and all of these labels simply tags on one collar of a single Hydra-headed hound, our rabid Cerberus unbound, trying to rip its own throat(s) open. And all too often it’s the same fight underneath it all; clear away the rhetoric (e.g. “magic” and “science”) and what you find is Romanticism and Rationalism going at it yet again, the ideal of the sublime versus the ideal of the logical.